It wasn’t a unanimous decision and there were concerns expressed, but talks between Logan and Franklin counties about building a 150- to 200-bed bicounty jail are going to continue for now.
The Franklin County Quorum Court voted 6-3 on Thursday, April 10 to keep talking. But before that vote was taken, questions were raised.
The counties are exploring alternatives to solve problems at their jails.
Last year, Logan County was put on notice that if it didn’t address problems at its jail, it could be closed.
The state’s Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee said inefficiencies included chronic overcrowding, cell design, separation of inmates and staffing.
The Logan County jail is a 34-bed facility in Paris. The Franklin County facility is a 26-bed facility at Ozark.
The issue was first discussed in February. A 10-member jail committee, consisting of each county judge, sheriff and representatives of both counties appointed by each Quorum Court, met in March to begin formal discussions.
But only one meeting was endorsed by Franklin County JPs. Whether to keep talking was the issue before Franklin County JPs last week.
Logan County Judge Gus Young, Justice of the Peace Mike Schluterman, Sheriff Steve Smith and Chief Deputy and Jail Administrator David Spicer attended the meeting, which was held in Charleston.
Franklin County JP David Hewitt said some of his constituents had concerns with the operations of a facility that would be split between two counties and asked who would run the facility and other Franklin County officials were skeptical of the proposal, saying the county should build its own jail.
Schluterman, chairman of a committee of representatives from both counties exploring the idea, told the Franklin County Quorum Court that one idea is to have an impartial administrative board, with members appointed by each county’s Quorum Court, that would be responsible for handling inmates and day-to-day operations at the facility as well as funding and hiring an administrator.
"There were a lot of them that said we didn’t need to go further because of the negative feedback they’ve been getting," Schluterman said last Friday. "I don’t think a lot of them knew we were thinking about having a board and hiring an administrator to be in charge of the jail."
Spicer said that idea has advantages for both counties.
"That administrative board would free up the responsibilities of each of the two law enforcement agencies to where we could focus on our duties and not have to worry about day-to-day operations," Spicer said after the meeting.
Young said some of the doubts were generated because of a lack of information.
"I think a shortage of information is what caused that," Young said. "Hopefully the committee can produce more information that will answer their questions. I think when that is done, it’ll help both Quorum Courts make a better decision."
Schluterman told Franklin County JPs that it is too early in the process to discuss design or expenses but a sales tax will be necessary to fund the jail. Schluterman also said a possible location of the facility would be in Caulksville, but said because the area considered has no sewer system, it would be more expensive to build there.
He said the committee has explored other areas such as Paris, Branch and County Line.
Schluterman told the Quorum Court that as the project progresses, the committee will work with the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District to assist with a list of possible architects for the project and for additional guidance and analysis.
Young said his office has received phone calls from other officials across the state who are keeping track of the project.
"A lot of counties around the state are in the same situation, and we’ve gotten calls from people to see if we can make this work," Young said in an interview prior to the meeting, noting one of the calls he received was from Danny Hickman, Arkansas Coordinator for Jail Standards, who expressed interest in the project.
"He said ‘I’m very interested and think you’re on the right track, and I know a lot of counties will be watching and I will, too,’ and he offered to help in any way he can. That was good encouragement."
Schluterman said the talks between the two counties will resume soon.
"We’re still moving forward and we’re going to have a meeting soon," he said."It’s going to be an uphill battle and we have to make sure all the JPs understand the idea. If they are completely behind this, it can work."
(The Times Record of Fort Smith included information used in this report.)